Sacred place

A nest above the lost river
Felix Kanic wrote that it is much easier to imagine a Hungarian desert without a small tavern than a Serbian mountain without a monastery. The monastery Crna Reka, in Ibarski Kolašin, in the cliff of Mokra gora, was built by the monks of St. Joannicius of Devič, just after the Battle of Kosovo. It holds the miraculous relics of St. Peter of Koriš. Many miserable men, curious men and men searching for God are visiting it

Text and photographs by: Dragan Bosnić


Crna Reka MonasteryIn Serbia, monasteries are a tourist attraction but above all the Serbian cultural heritage, the keepers of its tradition and faith. More than one century ago, the Austrian writer Felix Kanic wrote that it is much easier to imagine a Hungarian desert without a small tavern than a Serbian mountain without a monastery. Old monasteries inspire with the spiritual strength, magical frescos but the visitor first notices the skill of old architects to fit their building in the existing space the best way they can. There are buildings which are made so harmonious and they look like the natural continuation of the work that the Creator began a long time ago. One monastery of the type, Crna Reka, lies south from Novi Pazar, on the very border between Serbia and Montenegro, just besides the administrative line which marks the southern Serbian region of Kosmet.
More precisely, the monastery stands in the area of Ibarski Kolašin, near Ribarići, on the rocky cliffs of Mokra Gora. The monastery church is dedicated to the holy archangels Michael and Gabriel and it stands in the cave which raises above the dry riverbed of the lost river Crna Reka. The unusual cave church, similar to a swallow’s nest, was built by, according to a legend, the monks of St. Joannicius of Devič in the end of the 14th century, probably just after the Battle of Kosovo. The monastery is divided into four floors with a wooden construction. One can reach the second floor over a wooden bridge across Crna reka. The small single nave church stands on the third floor. Cells are one the first and the second floor and a spacious kitchen is on the forth floor. The kitchen is not in use because there is a big tavern built on the other side of the river in 1898 which was the first school for Serbian children in Ibarski Kolašin.
People say that a long time the water flow did not sink and that the River Sovara, or Crna reka, once roared and foamed through the deep, narrow gorge. The noise bothered St. Joannicius during his prayers and he made it disappear in the stone and emerges on the surface about a hundred meters further. However, the river still ripples by the church during March and April, when the snow is melting on Mokra gora. When there was a lot of snow, like back in 1984, the river roared through the narrow riverbed until the beginning of June. This year, it did not pass by the church, which is the sign of a warm and arid year.
The church in Crna Reka was painted by a famous zograph Longin in the beginning of the 17th century. The greatest reliquary of the monastery is the reliquary with the relics of St. Peter of Koriš who was moved in the end of the 16th century. In the end of the 17th century the relics of St. Stefan the First-crowned were moved from the endangered Studenica in Crna Reka. The relics from Studenica have stayed in this secure cave church for ten whole years. Even if it is far away from the roads and separated with an intransitive riverbed, the monastery was often burned, and it ended deserted in the end of the 18th century. It was renovated by the hieromonk Maksim, and finished by the hieromonk Ananije in 1874. The last works on the cleaning and conservation of the painting were finished in 1996.


The monastery Crna Reka is four kilometers away from Ribarići. The macadam road winds and rising up to the empty lake Gazivode, besides the calm River Crna reka. The long distance power line goes through the beech wood as well as the short-cut which only the rare hikers use. On the place where the water ripple disappears arises the new tavern, and about a hundred meters further, the church. Even if they are dedicated to prayers and monastery obligations, monks dedicate a lot of their time to guests which come to this sacred place. People most often come to see the relics of St. Peter of Koriš, above which there were many miraculous healings. The monks are keeping notes on it. These notes witness that the paralyzed walked after the wake by the reliquary, the sterile people got children, and many were healed for epilepsy, insomnia or some other psychic disorder. Of course, prayers and the deepest faith go without saying.
Healed people belong to three different religions which say us how Peter of Koriš was a respected saint. It even happened that people, among which old men and babies, fall into a seven meter deep rocky river canyon and remain uninjured.
In the cave lies the spring of the water of St.Archangel which the residents call Sacredness (in Serbian: Svetinja). The water drips into a stone recess where it collects and it is used for eye washing and the analysis have shown that it is very clean. The water which is used in the monastery is also of top-quality and it is available to all visitors. Monks do not consider bottling it, even if its flow is 50 liters per minute. The profit obsession, which exists in some great religions, is unfamiliar with Orthodoxy.
The head of the Monastery Crna Reka, father Nikolaj, a great supporter and a expert on healthy food, gives visitors many teas with detailed instructions for use. The monastery’s surroundings are full with medicinal herbs, Father Nikolaj especially recommends dries nettle root as an excellent remedy for strengthening one’s immunity. Frequent visitors stay in the monastery for several days. They are usually younger people. They sleep in the old tavern, where they eat their meals as well. The go to the morning prayer with monks, they help them with their everyday jobs during the day and in the evening they listen to orations of father Nikolaj.
Crna Reka is a male monastery. The fraternity counts 22 members. Monks live and work in the new tavern which was recently built. Three monks constantly stay in caves on high elevations in Mokra Gora. They are dedicated to the holy Apostle and Evangelist Luka, the Saint Prophet Ilija and Saint Siluan of Athon. The fraternity owns a rich library, computers, icon, carpenter, tailor and candle workshops. There is also a chapel in by the tavern where monk pray according to the Studenica Typikon. The Divine Liturgy is taking place every day.
The monastery has its woods, some cultivable soil, a barn, a flock of sheep from whose milk the monks are making excellent cheese. This is enough for the fraternity to satisfy its needs and the needs of their guests which are very frequent. The monastery is especially active on July 12th, on the day of celebration of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul (St. Peter’s Day) and on July 18th, for another St. Peter’s celebration. On November 21st, for the Assemble of St. Archangel Michael, the reliquary with the relics is open, for the pleasure of many religious people.


The restoration
The monastery Crna Reka is well known for many miracles. Thanks to a miracle, it has been restored. When the experts form the Cultural Heritage Preservation Institute of Kraljevo came to visit the monastery, they concluded that it was a very important cultural object but that they had enough money only for restoring Studenica and Sopoćani. The minute that the architect Veljko said it, a large 50 kilograms ceiling piece fell in front of him on the table. Except a broken coffee cup, nothing else was damaged, but everyone was left speechless. After that, the monastery Crna Reka was put on the list of priorities and it was restored very soon.


Near the new tavern in Crna Reka lies a nearly fresh grave. This where the remains of the Holy Martyr Hariton were buried. He came from the monastery Crna Reka and he got killed near Prizren on June 15th 1999. His decapitated and massacred body was found after more than one year and buried in Crna Reka. The time of martyrs never disappeared.


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